Entering the 2013 offseason, the biggest priority for the Colts was the offensive line.
Entering the 2014 offseason, the biggest priority for the Colts is the offensive line.
That is about all you need to know about how the offseason turned out last year for the Colts and general manager Ryan Grigson. It's not accurate to say that he didn't address the position - he absolutely did. He signed free agents Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus and drafted Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes. Thomas played well in the game and a quarter he played before being lost for the season with a torn quad. Cherilus was a very good addition, playing good football and starting all 18 games for the Colts at right tackle. Thornton started 14 games at left guard after Thomas was hurt, but he didn't play well for much of the year. And Khaled Holmes played very, very sparingly.
Overall, the Colts had seven different starting offensive line combinations in 18 games this year. And overall, it was a rough season for the Colts offensive line. First off, here are a few tables on the starting offensive line this season:
|Game||LT||LG||C||RG||RT||Sacks Allowed||QB Hits Allowed|
|OAK||Anthony Castonzo||Donald Thomas||Samson Satele||Mike McGlynn||Gosder Cherilus||4||8|
|@ SF||Castonzo||Hugh Thornton||Mike McGlynn||Jeff Linkenbach||Cherilus||1||7|
|SEA||Castonzo||Thornton||Samson Satele||Mike McGlynn||Cherilus||2||5|
|@ CIN||Castonzo||Joe Reitz||Satele||Mike McGlynn||Cherilus||0||4|
|HOU||Castonzo||Hugh Thornton||Mike McGlynn||Joe Reitz||Cherilus||1||4|
|@ KC||Castonzo||Xavier Nixon||Samson Satele||Mike McGlynn||Cherilus||1||5|
|JAX||Castonzo||Hugh Thornton||Satele||Jeff Linkenbach||Cherilus||1||4|
|Starting OL Combination (LT/LG/C/RG/RT)||Games||Sacks Total||QB Hits Total||Sacks Per Game||QB Hits Per Game|
|Anthony Castonzo (18)||Hugh Thornton (14)||Samson Satele (15)||Mike McGlynn (13)||Gosder Cherilus (18)|
|Donald Thomas (2)||Mike McGlynn (3)||Jeff Linkenbach (4)|
|Joe Reitz (1)||Joe Reitz (1)|
|Xavier Nixon (1)|
The real strength of the offensive line in 2013 (yes, there were strengths) were the bookends of the line, tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. Castonzo really continued to develop and, as Chuck Pagano said, he took the next step toward being an elite left tackle. Both of the tackles really improved this year and were tremendous bookends on the line. Both of them started every single game and both of them played well and were the best linemen at protecting quarterback Andrew Luck and paving a way for the run (especially Castonzo).
The worst part of the offensive line was the interior of the offensive line (the same as it was last year). The rookie Hugh Thornton was terrible for most of the year after missing training camp and being thrust into the starting lineup when Donald Thomas went down. In the last few games of the season, he actually began to show improvement and play better, and so it's reasonable to expect him to continue to develop. In other words, don't give up on him yet. Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn, however - yeah, go ahead and give up on them. That's fine. McGlynn actually provided some value to the Colts, as he was the team's best option at center. He was very bad at guard, however, which is where he spent the majority of his time. There was actually a time in the season where he was benched for a game. While McGlynn was the best center option, Samson Satele was the team's worst option at center - and he started 15 games there. He was terrible. McGlynn is a free agent this offseason, and I could see the Colts possibly bringing him back as a backup role, and I'd be ok with that if it was as a backup center. But even though I could see it happening, I don't think it's all that likely. Samson Satele seems like a no-brainer choice to be a salary cap casualty this offseason, as his 2014 cap hit is just over $5 million and if cut the Colts would save $4 million. It makes so much sense to cut him. We'll see what the Colts actually decide to do. What is clear is that Thornton, Satele, and McGlynn all were terrible in 2013. Thornton showed improvement as the season went on and McGlynn showed some value at center.
In my opinion, the best guards the Colts had in 2013 were players like Joe Reitz, Jeff Linkenbach, and Xavier Nixon. Neither Reitz, Linkenbach, or Nixon played great but they all were solid, which is much more than I could say about the others. It doesn't seem like the coaching staff thought as highly of Reitz, however, as he was a healthy inactive in the last few games of the season. Nixon especially is a player that fans really liked, as he played very well in his first action of the season, against the Bengals. He started the next week and came back down to earth a bit, but there is no doubt that he was impressive. Linkenbach is a free agent this offseason as well, but I could absolutely see him coming back for another year.
I liked what I saw from Donald Thomas in the limited action he saw this year before suffering a season-ending injury. He will be back next season starting at left guard, and I'm happy with that. The other guy that fans want to know about is Khaled Holmes. Why didn't he get a chance at center this year with how bad Samson Satele was? My answer: I don't know. He missed training camp with an injury which really hurt his progress, and for whatever reason the coaching staff must not have been overly impressed enough with him as the season went on to put him into the starting lineup. I'm going to withhold any judgement on that decision by the coaches because we really didn't get to see how Holmes did in practice. Maybe he just wasn't that impressive. I don't know why he wasn't playing, but I'm not going to say that was the wrong move unless I actually saw him practice, and I didn't. It will be very interesting to see how much he factors into the Colts' plans next year.
Give the offensive line some credit - despite losing guys to injury and having a different starting combination often (six different combinations in the final seven games), they improved as the season went on, and in the last several games they actually protected Andrew Luck very well. But that doesn't erase what we saw earlier in the year, and that was a very bad offensive line. It is clear that the Colts have to address the position again this offseason - the center and right guard spots.
The Colts will have Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Gosder Cherilus at right guard, and Donald Thomas at left guard. Those are all pretty good players and the 3/5 of the way to a good line. The real areas the Colts need to address are the center and right guard positions. Hugh Thornton is supposedly a better right guard than he is left guard, so perhaps he can move to right guard next year with Thomas coming back. Still, they should add a starting caliber right guard to give him competition. They also need to add a center and get rid of Samson Satele. That in itself would improve the offensive line.
All in all, this line won't rank among the all-time worsts for the Colts, despite how bad it was at times. But it was still bad, and Andrew Luck was still on the run, pressured, and hit much more than he should be. The run game would benefit greatly from an improved offensive line as well. There are some very good pieces on the line, and I feel bad grouping them together into a overall group grade, so I put together individual grades for the linemen (anyone who started at least one game), as well as one overall grade at the end:
Anthony Castonzo: A -
Hugh Thornton: D +
Samson Satele: F
Mike McGlynn: C - (because he was useful at center, too)
Gosder Cherilus: A -
Donald Thomas: A -
Joe Reitz: B -
Jeff Linkenbach: C +
Xavier Nixon: B
OFFENSIVE LINE GRADE: D
For more in-depth analysis of the Colts' 2013 season by position, check out Josh Wilson's other position reviews: